Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Iberian Administrative Legacy

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Iberian Administrative Legacy

Article excerpt


The Iberian tradition-values introduced into many nations by Spain and Portugal-has endured. The values of patrimonialism, scholasticism, corporatism, orthodoxy, and mercantilism have had an influence on the public administrative systems of many lands in Latin America, parts of Africa, and Asian countries wherever Spain and Portugal had colonies. The two empires were motivated by many and conflicting objectives. Differences between the two systems are explainable in terms of timing, focus, and resources.

The legacy is assessed in terms of several recent theories about the nature of political development.


What is the Iberian legacy to public administration? How have the Hispanic and Lusiad values, transmitted from the late fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries, affected the administrative practices of many countries once part of these empires? This article will examine these questions in terms of the pre-independence colonial experience as well as current theories of political development.

First, an understanding of the value system of Iberian society, on the eve of expansion, would be helpful. Five essential values having political, economic, pedagogic, religious, and social significance: patrimonialism, corporatism, mercantilism, scholasticism, and orthodoxy will be examined in turn.


Eisenstadt (1978:274) categorized Spain and Portugal as patrimonial societies whose structural characteristics and cultural orientations differ from more classically imperial or imperial-feudal patterns. Such societies, by virtue of their patrimonially shaped institutional arrangements and values, demonstrate little differentiation between center and periphery.

Patrimonialism, a tradition of passing on inherited wealth and institutions usually to the first born, was definitely an Iberian tradition. Patrimonial social structures are found in many colonial systems.

At the pinnacle of the society and the empire stood the king who was regarded as the "natural lord of society" and "God's vicar on earth" (Elliot, 1984:157). It was his duty to provide sound government and justice with each vassal treated according to his or her station and each performing the requisite tasks and duties. Implicit here is a contractual understanding: the king is obliged to perform his duties in a just manner consistent with the common good. He dispenses rewards (mercedes) to those who perform a service (servicio). Elliot (Ibid.) notes that this form of patrimonialism, conceptualized as mutual obligation, had been discarded by the late Medieval period but was reconstituted in Castile under Ferdinand and Isabella (1474-1504) and was later transplanted to the New World.

Timing was critical to the transferal of Iberian values. Colonial expansion occurred with the emergence of an international system. This, according to Eisenstadt (1978), modified these nations' patrimonialism from the traditional model. Modernity impacted many nations but they reacted to it in a variety of ways. Examining the case of Latin America, Eisenstadt (1978:275) observes that only in the case of three nations (Bolivia, Mexico, and Cuba) did revolutions approximate a real revolutionary model. In much of the region, the claim to a revolution was premised solely on the post-revolutionary ruling elites' self-description. In fact, such societies underwent no profound systemic change and reverted to neo-patrimonialism at the end of the revolutionary era in the nineteenth century.


Corporatism is the tradition of rule through corporate bodies, the institutionalized representation of politically significant groups. In Spanish America, three significant groups shared power: the Roman Catholic Church, the military, and the landowning aristocracy. Wiarda (1980):31-32) has explained the evolution and function of corporatism from colonial times to the present. Latin American social and political systems are a pyramid with one dominant figure or the central state apparatus at the apex and a large, undifferentiated mass at the bottom. …

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